We’ve made it to the top three of the Vancouver Canucks’ prospects pipeline. This is where we are talking about the players with the highest potential to make an impact at the NHL level.
We’ve got three players at very different stages of their prospect cycle coming up and there’s a good chance that all three can play NHL games for the Canucks in the coming years. So, without wasting any more words on an intro, let’s dive into the Canucks’ top three prospects.
#3: Danila Klimovich, RW, 19 years old, 6’2″, 205 lbs
Coming in at number three on our rankings is the big Belarussian sniper Danila Klimovich. The Canucks used their 2021 second-round pick on Klimovich in a situation where they shot for the moon and hoped that they could develop the raw talent that he possesses into a player who could make an impact at the NHL level.
Klimovich is big, strong, and has a wicked release on both his wrist shot and slap shot. If you simply look at the highlights of this kid, you are taken by the strengths in his play. Klimovich is also able to throw the body around and use his size to be an impactful force with open-ice hits.
We see so much potential in the strengths of his game. He jumped into the AHL as an 18-year-old and scored a goal in each of his first two games. From there, expectations began to run wild about the teenager and excitement began to build about how quickly he could be in the NHL and begin to help on the Vancouver Canucks’ power play.
The power that he generates on his wrist shot is at an NHL level. If he is given time and space, he is very accurate with his strong shot and can beat a ready goaltender at any level.
Even with all of his strengths, there are more worries that make us pause before pencilling him into the NHL lineup as soon as this coming season. Klimovich is very inconsistent with his shot at the AHL level. Though he is a standout in warm-ups and practice, he isn’t able to get the time and space that he needs during game-action. This limits his ability to maximize his best trait and we saw a lot of flubbed shots in the AHL this past season.
Another big worry in his game is Klimovich’s effort level when it comes to defending. This is the area where he needs the most coaching and he will not be able to be a consistent NHL player if there are no massive improvements to how he defends. He often floats in the defensive zone and even when he is engaged in the corners while playing down low in his own end, he will often give the opposition a lot of space and reach instead of using his strength and size to make it difficult on an opponent.
When scouting Klimovich after he was drafted, many scouts recognized his frustration when things don’t go his way. This was seen on multiple occasions in the AHL this past season and as someone who has seen a lot of him in practice or camps, this frustration often shows up in those practice environments as well.
Giving a damn about losing a puck battle or not being able to get the puck out is a good thing but Klimovich needs to find a way to turn his anger into a positive for his team.
One of the parts of Klimovich’s game that doesn’t get talked about often is his playmaking ability. In my eyes, this is the most underrated part of his game. When he is set up in the offensive zone, Klimovich is a good passer who will attempt the risky pass if the reward is a high-quality scoring chance. He finished the AHL season with 10 assists in 62 games and once the puck is in the offensive zone, Klimovich did a great job of initiating offence during his first pro season in North America.
The worry is simply about his play in the first two zones. As you can see, his expected goals percentage is very low and this is a big worry about how Klimovich is able to assist in his own zone and be able to get the puck out of his own zone.
Another note about his first season in the AHL that should be talked about was his unluckiness. It’s not something that you can necessarily track with stats but there were a lot of tough bounces for the kid last season. His shooting percentage on the year was 7.3%, and for a player with a show as lethal as his, this is lower than expected. I’m expecting a jump in production next year and if he can work on the consistency of his shot improving, it will only help that shooting percentage rise.
When you look back at last season, though he didn’t light the AHL on fire, it was a damn good year for Klimovich. He was the only 18-year-old who played more than three AHL games and ultimately finished the year with 18 points in 62 games.
Now, at just 19 years old, there’s a lot of work to do and it’s going to be up to the coaching staff in Abbotsford as well as the Canucks’ development group to push Klimovich to make the necessary improvements to get on track to become an NHL contributor. There will need to be some serious talks about his approach to playing defence and this is where I look at Henrik and Daniel Sedin being crucial parts of the development staff.
Klimovich could be a very special player if he were to reach the ceiling of his potential.
It’s just going to take a lot of work to get there.
#2: Jack Rathbone, LD, 23 years old, 5’11”, 190 lbs
It’s officially ‘go time’ for Jack Rathbone who we won’t be seeing on the list of the top prospects for much longer.
By now, we all know about the strengths in Rathbone’s game. He is an above-average skater who has an excellent slap shot from the point and is able to make strong breakout passes. Rathbone came out of training camp as an NHL player but found himself being sent down to the AHL to work on the weaker parts of his game.
His nine-game run in the NHL was full of unfortunate bounces that saw a disallowed goal, multiple posts, and a team on-ice shooting percentage of 1.6%. To explain that on-ice shooting percentage a little bit more, Rathbone was on the ice for 55 scoring chances and 64 shots on net, but only one goal was scored. That is simply horrible luck and Rathbone needed to go get confidence in the AHL.
In the AHL, Rathbone got back to being the dynamic offensive defenceman that he is. He was more than a point per game in this AHL and dressed 39 times for the Abbotsford Canucks.
We watched as he build up his defensive game and was trusted to be used in crucial situations for Abbotsford. Rathbone talked about spending a lot of time with the video coaches working on the finer details of how to defend and we expect to see him make a strong push to be in Vancouver’s opening night lineup.
As we said at the beginning of this Rathbone write-up, it’s go time for the 23-year-old and we believe there’s already an NHL-level player there. We don’t expect to be talking about him as a prospect ever again. This is an NHL defenceman and he will be a good boost to the depth of the Canucks’ back end as soon as this September.
His unlucky streak in the NHL last season may have mushed expectations a bit but we expect to see much more offensive production this fall as well as an improved defender.
It’s go time.
#1: Jonathan Lekkerimäki, RW, 17 years old, 5’11”, 172 lbs
We’ve got a new king of the castle in the Canucks’ prospect pool. Jonathan Lekkerimäki is the top-dog prospect in the Canucks organization and there should be high expectations on what kind of NHL player he will be in a few years.
There’s a ton to like about the Canucks first-round pick of the 2022 draft. He is an offensive winger who can be a playmaker and a finisher. Our favourite part of Lekkerimäki’s game is the release on his shot. Though he is small in stature, he generates a ton of velocity on his wrist shot by leaning on the flex of the stick and having an incredible release at the end of his wrist shot.
Lekkerimäki is at his best on the power play and we can see him being the left half-wall guy on the Canucks’ first power play in the near future. His ability to fire a strong and accurate wrist shot while also being able to get a good slap shot off is an impressive arsenal of offence for a man-advantage unit.
Next season is going to be a tremendous opportunity for Lekkerimäki to showcase his skill as he is going to play in the Allsvenskan league in Sweden. The Allsvenskan is the second-best league in Sweden and there should be a reliance on Lekkerimäki to be one of the team leaders for scoring as well as plenty of power play time for him to hone his skills.
Our projection for Lekkerimäki is that he will spend two seasons in Sweden before coming over to North America and jumping into the NHL for the beginning of the 2024-25 season. As much as we liked his willingness to push on his opposition in J20 or SHL play, this prospect is going to need some time to grow into a much stronger player before he can deal with the day-to-day grind of being an NHLer.
The good news is that he has the drive to go to the net hard and be extremely aggressive in the corners. We also liked his effort level in the defensive zone where he may be out of position at times to defend point shots but he uses his hockey smarts to read where scoring chances are coming from. Defencemen will like how he helps down low and his quick stick disrupts scoring chances in his own end.
Lekkerimäki was projected to be a top-10 pick but because of being a winger, as well as not being over 6’0″, he slipped to the Canucks at 15.
It’s very likely that the Canucks have found one of the top scoring threats in the 2022 draft and for that reason, and many more, Jonathan Lekkerimäki is now the top prospect in the system.
We will be following his Allsvenskan season closely and will be sure to keep you updated on the big moments from his year in Sweden.
That’s a wrap on my top-10 rankings of the Canucks prospects. We will run an honourable mentions article tomorrow to put a bow on this series and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
- Jonathan Lekkerimäki
- Jack Rathbone
- Danila Klimovich
- Elias Pettersson
- Aidan Mcdonough
- Jonathan Myrenberg
- Aku Koskenvuo
- Lucas Forsell
- Linus Karlsson
- Arturs Silovs